Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holidays Proposals & the Year that Follows

On this day 15 years ago, I got engaged down in Florida. Ironically, my father was probably only 10 miles away at that time, but we were not in contact back then, so the celebration of the engagement and Christmas Eve occurred solely with my fiance's family. Immediately the questions began about possible dates, location, etc. Honestly, I just wanted to elope and avoid all the drama and hype. In deference to my now ex-husband's family, however, we went forward with a traditional wedding with about 80 guests in Washington, DC. Learning to stick to a budget and compromise on major decisions was actually an incredible lesson for us during that year-long engagement, and navigating the various family personalities was quite the bonding experience. During that year, I learned why so many of my married friends said that the whole wedding experience itself was a right of passage-- it definitely is not the same as just agreeing to shack up together and merge accounts.

According to the Sunday Style of tomorrow's Washington Post, 33% of the engagements in the DC Area occur between Thanksgiving and New Years, and the average cost of a wedding around here will be $33,727. Looking at that figure, I'm definitely more inclined to go with my original inclination to just elope-- only problem is I still need to find a groom first, but it is also easier for me to say this because I have already had the big traditional wedding once before. For those about to take that first walk down the aisle, I say enjoy the year-long engagement. Work out a realistic budget, don't let family dynamics corrupt your love, and accept that everything may not be absolutely perfect on the final big day, but who cares? As long as the vows are exchanged and you have officially changed your legal status to "married" then you have accomplished the mission of the day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Unplugging During the Holidays

I'm not sure about others, but what I am looking forward to the most is unplugging during the holidays. Just a few days of peace and quiet, without checking emails or voicemails. Courts close early tomorrow, most of the city shuts down as people go away for the last week of December, and real emergencies are reserved for hospitals and 911 calls.

Everyone these days seems so attached to their electronic devices, and I'm sure many will want to play with their latest gadgets over the holidays, but just as we try to limit our children's time on Wii or their Nintendos, perhaps we should consider applying some limits upon ourselves. Nothing beats quality time with someone-- uninterrupted by beeps, rings or typing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Alarming Demise of the Legal Profession

Over the last decade, we have made tremendous strides in communication, and technology has helped make information readily available to many. Now a lot of employers will allow for telecommuting and flexible schedules, as long as people remain accessible via cellphones or the internet. An amazing new set of options now exist that did not just 10 years ago, and yet with all these gains I am painfully aware of the losses to our privacy, personal boundaries and above all to the corrosion of the legal profession.

For some reason, people seem to understand that you have to pay for most services-- whether it is your hairdresser, doctor or even your mechanic. Some public services are covered through your taxes, such as public schools, the fire department, police, etc. And yet inexplicably when it comes to legal services, so many people seem outraged by the lack of free consults or payment plans. Personally, I don't know of anyone else that does work for free or delivers a product first without any assurance of payment. Perhaps it is the hourly rates that seem to not sit well with people, but the fact is that 1/3 goes to taxes, 1/3 goes to overhead, so the actual amount received by the lawyer rendering a service is the remaining 1/3.

A lot of information and sample documents are now readily available on-line, so the overall client base across many fields of law has decreased. Furthermore, as a result of the recession, many litigants are attempting to navigate the legal system on their own. The remaining clients that want legal assistance now have souring expectations about an attorney's availability without any regard to the sanctity of family time, or our need to simply decompress.

Unfortunately, the increased competition within the profession has resulted in a rapidly evaporating sense of loyalty within firms. It used to be that an associate would put in 6-8 years at a firm, and eventually s/he would make partner with the firm acting as a safety net ensuring a secure, promising future for that attorney. Now, there is little assurance of a partner track, and once you are partner, the pressure to make it rain for the firm never seems to end-- the second you do, you might well find your partners have turned their backs on you and left you out in the cold.

For the last three years, after each of my lectures at the law schoools, I am constantly asked by law students to provide some insight into firm life, what firms are looking for, etc. For their sake, I try to remain optimistic, for I do know of a few good firms run by partners that still have a soul-- but the key word is few. This harsh corporate mentality is undoubtedly having a trickle-down effect that impacts the entire profession in private practice. For those of us that went to law school to help people and believed in the practice of law as a profession, not a cut-throat business, it is disheartening to see so many sharks take over and muddy our waters.

If revolts across the Middle East and other parts of the world could start with use of the social media, then perhaps that is the best place for some of us rebels within the legal profession to start. Using the very source that may be the cause of the demise of my profession to help fix it is ironic, I realize that, but then again my life is full of ironies-- the greatest one being that here I am the poster child of divorce, when all I ever dreamed of was an intact family. Luckily, I have a strong spirit, and just as I hold out hope that one day I may get my wish in my personal life, I continue to believe it is possible for those in my profession to return to their original mission-- to assist those in need with dignity and respect.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Difference Between Casual Dating & Dating on a Mission

When you are casually dating, you really are just looking for someone that you enjoy hanging out with-- you are far more willing to overlook certain things, not pay attention to your dealbreakers, and options seem limitless when you are not specifically searching for certain characteristics in a person.

Dating on a mission is a much more methodical process-- you have your dealbreakers front and center in your mind, and your ability to screen out inappropriate matches can occur at lightening speed. A lot less time is wasted when you are on this mode, but it certainly does not leave you feeling like the world has endless possibilities.

Is it possible to merge these two styles? I'm not so sure, but perhaps a nice compromise approach might be to rank your dealbreakers and must-haves. If someone hits any of your top 5 dealbreakers, you should train your mind to visualize a red flag that is directing you to hit eject right away. Meanwhile, if there are some reasons for concern, you may want to picture yellow flags directing you to proceed with caution. Similarly, having a top five list of must-haves can help narrow your search and eliminate unsuitable candidates.

Ultimately, we are all working towards a common goal of finding a great partner. Keeping that in mind, there is something to be said for enjoying the journey itself. A methodical exercise in cross-examination techniques is best suited for a mock trial, not the start of a budding romance. That said, jumping into something head first (primarily driven by lust, not love) is a recipe for disaster. Tempering the desire for fun with some basic ground rules to keep us for veering too off course is perhaps a nice compromise approach to the Dating Game.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Finding Inspiration From Our Elders

So often I find that people focus on success stories and accomplishments, and I truly don't mean to be dismissive of those things, but I do believe it is equally worthwhile seeing how someone handles loss, disappointment and/or setbacks in their lives. How we recover from devastating blows speaks volumes about us, and in many ways can define our lives. Some people implode, while others find the courage to persevere, and I truly believe that at these critical moments we need to find inspiration from our elders.

Both my parents were immigrants, and their lives have not been easy. In my conversations this past year with my father, I have discovered an amazing inner strength within him that has truly inspired me. As I have been making the rounds at the local holiday parties around town, everyone can see me glow as I talk about the insight I have gained from reconnecting with my dad. There is a tremendous sense of loss as a result of all the years spent apart as a result of an erroneous court order, but as best we can, we are trying to make up for lost time, and at least I found him before it was too late.

This holiday season, as so many head home to be with relatives, I encourage the younger generations to try to talk about their family's past-- how people fell in love, their various interests, passions and any struggles that others experienced. These stories actually can provide us with great insight and inspiration in our own lives, and it may just be the best gift that our elders can give us without even having to drain any financial resources.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holidays and Gifts for Loved Ones

While running on the treadmill today, I heard on the news that the average American household has about $15,000 of credit card debt. To add to that over the holidays just does not make sense. Obviously children expect gifts under the tree, so I am not advocating that we cut out presents for children, but we can certainly start to set appropriate expectations for them and our other loved ones, with just a few gifts and emphasizing other ways that we can express our love and gratitude for one another. In fact, according to Love Languages, there are 4 other ways we can express love: (1) Quality Time; (2) Touch; (3) Words of Affirmation; and (4) Acts of Kindness. What is best about all these other ways of expressing love-- no one can take them away from you. Unlike gifts, which can get lost or are easily forgotten over time, the other methods for expressing affection can last a lifetime.

As parents, I think the sooner we can start teaching our kids about holidays being more about spending time with family, and less about the gifts, the better we prepare them for healthy adult lives. Let's face it, rarely will anyone be better able pick something out for you than your own self. Everyone has their own taste, style, and preferences, and as a result gift-giving occassions are always full of stress and often disappointment. Therefore, the sooner our children can learn that it really is not about the gift but the thought that counts, the less stressed out they will be during special occassions and the more apt to just enjoy themselves.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Talking About Taboo Subjects

Traditionally, we have been taught not to talk about politics, religion or sex when we first meet someone-- but if you are dating, those are probably the three areas you care about most. Don't you want to know someone's core beliefs sooner rather than later? I really don't care very much where someone went to school or grew up-- although I know that is the polite place to start. Really, how refreshing would it be to be able to just say- I'm a moderate in politics; go to church; and I've had my fun in the dating world, but now want to meet someone that I can introduce to my family?

Dating is an exercise in trading information. We can all carry on polite conversation-- but how many people do you actually like hanging out with? If you are a college grad, you won't even relate to 75% of the U.S. population, so let's face it, finding someone of the opposite sex, who is available and that you can connect with (beyond just appearances) after age 21 is not easily done. When clocks start ticking and you are feeling like windows of opportunities are closing, I think it's time to just be honest and not waste time-- get to the hard stuff sooner rather than later. Just remember, no one is perfect; we all have baggage-- you just need to find someone whose baggage is compatible with yours.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Setting Your Own Timeline

I went to an intense high school full of bright young students eager to be the future leaders of America. The timeline was pretty much set for us at age 14-- and it did not matter what type of family you came from, the point is once you actually got into Andover, expectations were set pretty high although some were far less stressed about meeting these goals than others, and I'm pretty sure that had a lot to do with the family dynamics going on in the background.

For twenty-five years, I ran on that treadmill hoping to meet everyone's expecations-- wanting to please everyone and not let anyone down. I graduated from top schools and worked at top firms, accumulating all sorts of awards and honors along the way. I also got married and produced an heir, and to everyone around it would seem I was hitting all the right points at all the right times dictated by social standards. Yet, my story this year highlights my greatest lesson of all-- who cares about timelines and how others define success?

My greatest joy in life has nothing to do with my accomplishments as an athlete, in academics or as a professional. Becoming a mother and finding my family have filled an incredible void, and none of them care in the least about all the things the rest of the world seems to focus on so much. Funny thing about life is that so much of what we do is structured around timelines, and yet the one thing we all seek most in life-- LOVE-- follows no such rules and structure. It finds you when it is meant to happen, and this year, even though it was not according to my desired timeframe, I am just so glad it found me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Learning to Laugh At Yourself

It is Dec. 3rd, and all my holiday cards have arrived safely to their intended destinations. This week, I shipped all the presents that needed to arrive for my family in Florida in time for Christmas. Everyone laughed at me for being so efficient, and I have to admit it is funny. The stress of crowded stores, post offices, possible delays, etc. is all too much for me to bear, which is why I plan ahead and get things done early most of the time. It is a skill that has come in quite handy in my professional life, but in my personal life I have had to learn to tone it down, and the payoff has been incredible.

If you plan everything out, then there isn't much room for spontaniety. It is also hard to adapt when plans change at the last minute, and yet that is exactly how real life generally tends to work. Both my father and brother flew to DC this year to meet me at the last minute leaving me without much of chance to plan anything, and their laid back attitudes and fluid concept of time have left me baffled-- how is it possible that we look exactly alike and yet we can have such opposite attitudes towards something so fundamental? They find me hilarious, and my son is so relieved to have found allies in his way of thinking. It's taken all 3 generations to come together to prove to me it is okay to not always have a plan, and when things are not going as originally envisioned, the best thing to do may just be to let go and laugh.

So this week, the non-planner in me was greatly rewarded. A friend I had not seen in years came into town, and because I had not meticulously planned out my week, I was actually able to get together with her and have an amazing time. Three other people were also able to get on my calendar without having to wait for weeks because I no longer try to jam-pack a million things in at once. Finally, tonight I was able to make time to go see a friend's concert because I had not committed to anything, and the best affirmation that this new attitude is paying off came from my own son, who said he digs the more laid-back version of me. I had to chuckle at his comment, as I thought to myself, "I do too little man!"

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Volunteering- It is an excellent form of therapy

Today, I volunteered to help at my son's school. I'll be honest-- it wasn't just about helping out the teacher, it was a great way for me to feel useful and connected to my community. I felt exactly the same yesterday after I volunteered to speak at Georgetown University about family law litigation and alternate dispute methods for families that want to preserve goodwill and funds by focusing on settlements outside of court. Volunteering for over 20 years has been part of my passion, and I think it is perfectly fine to admit that it is not just about doing a good deed, it is healthy and normal to enjoy the rewarding feeling that fills you while you are helping others.

Especially in this economy, where we may not be able to be as generous with funds, we can certainly make an effort to find some time to donate to a good cause. For parents with young children, I think it is important to foster in them a sense of responsibility to the community at an early age. If they cannot volunteer yet, but they at least see you do it, you are planting a seed by modeling the behavior for them. Up until now, I have not involved my son much in community service efforts because he is only 8, but he at least knows that I am doing these activities and that soon enough, we will be looking at things to do together in this vein.

My clients who are feeling down about their personal situations have all told me that one afternoon of volunteering at a shelter did wonders for helping them put things in perspective. Many friends looking for Mr. Right has told me that they have met wonderful people with common interests while doing a good deed. There are great resources for finding ways to volunteer in your local community. My alma mater, Georgetown, regularly sends emails with projects for alums, and Bethesda Magazine recenty did an article on charitable activities. There are also various websites, including that post opportunities regularly. Especially during this holiday season, if you cannot donate money I urge you to consider giving some of your time for a good cause-- not only will you be helping others, you will be helping yourself. I promise, it will lift your spirits!